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Wastewater Treatment

In 2005, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the nation’s water infrastructure a D-minus. The US Environmental Protection Agency has responsibility for the nation’s wastewater management. The EPA itself estimates that 25% of the nation’s sewer pipes were in poor or very poor condition. They also estimate that this share will rise to 50% by 2020.

Two things. First, I’d remind folks that virtually all of the infrastructure in the US is publicly run and managed and maintained, and your government is getting a D-minus for its performance. When I engage students in discussions about privatizing infrastructure, these obvious deficiencies get conveniently and regularly ignored.

Second, how much of that “stimulus” money is being funneled to improving these important resources? After all, we were sold on the idea that we can get a double whammy of goodness from the stimulus – that we would be lifted out of a horrible recession AND that it gives us a good chance to get a shiny new infrastructure which can pave the way for future growth and prosperity. Well, something near half the stimulus funds have yet to be spent – and this is going on two years since its passage. Much of what has been spent has gone to line the pockets of state and local government workers and their associated union looter constituents. If you add the total expenditures for the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers, that total is $2.8 billion for the EPA and $1.8 Billion for the Army Corp. So together, $4.6 billion has been spent by the two agencies responsible for wastewater treatment. The EPA reports that it is getting more money than this.

Combine this with the $15 billion dedicated to the Department of Transportation, and so far only $20 billion of nearly $800 billion of earmarked stimulus funds have been spent on shiny new infrastructure … 2.5% of the total. And I doubt that all of this $20 billion has gone toward what it supposed to have gone toward. More on that in the future.

The economic debate has recently been about whether the original stimulus has been large enough. But whether it was too small or too big, it clearly has not been directed to the sources we were promised. Where are all the bumper stickers like, “Bush Lied …”?

2 Responses to “Wastewater Treatment”

  1. Harry says:

    Wintercow is thinking globally and municipally.

    I am sure we can all agree that if wastewater is what we call sewage, it might be properly controlled by our municipal authorities, assuming they are on a short leash to protect the safety of the public. Nobody is for cholera. OK, the Taliban is for cholera for non-believers, but that is a different argument.

    But wastewater, defined broadly, includes whatever falls into the watershed, which includes everything from the highest peak to the bottom of the big blue sea.

    Here in Pennsylvania out Department of Environmental resource has promulgated a rule to mandate a complete overhaul of every drainage ditch, culvert, and storm sewer.

    This will be a bonanza to everyone in any business that owns a backhoe or otherwise might get a contract for digging up holes and replacing them with bigger holes, or moving earth to create dams. Or refurbishing bridges. This is and will be justified by engineers employed by our elected officials.

    But already our municipal officials are alarmed that this mandate will cost hundreds of million dollars, and they worry if their municipality goes bankrupt, people will appear at their meetings with pitchforks, torches, hot tar, and feathers.

    Right now many municipalities around here have hired lawyers to fight the state.

    Every dollar spent on both sides of this controversy is overhead, from the overcompensated nerds in the DER to the lawyers hired by our local government to defend against having to dig holes and fill ’em up.

    I may have strayed from your central point, Mike, but it sure falls under the category of government gone wild.

  2. Harry says:

    Another question for wintercow:

    Last night on Kudlow Robert Reich argued for more spending, including a Rooseveldt-scale WPA.

    One and a half year before he was on Kudlow, and arguing for the big stimulus (not the Bush-Pelosi stimulus of 2000), remarked, “And let’s not forget the multiplier!”

    I’ll forgive Larry Kudlow for not pressing his guest on this subject. But where is the outrage among economists? There was a multiplier, and it was a lot less than one. The money went to the people who literally or figuratively dig holes and fill them up.

    I know it is not so simple, but we all should challenge foolishness.

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